Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Three Days to Never" - Tim Powers

"Three Days to Never" is Tim Powers' lastest book and as usual portrays a supernatural world underlying our mundane one. This time we meet Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Mossad agents and a collection of disturbing conspirators.

Powers' last few books ("Declare", "Earthquake Weather" and "Expiration Date") dealt with huge canvases; The fate of the West, Noah's flood, the Second World War. This time he confines his action to a handful of people, several of them family, and few locations in California. "Three Days to Never" is more akin in feel to one of Powers' compatriot James Blaylock's California books ("Winter Tides", "Rainy Season", etc.). It's not a bad thing but it did take me a few pages (or more) to change my perspective of what I guess I've come to expect from his books.

There's time travel, stolen concrete footprints, cryptic videos and remote viewing. All is presented in a matter of fact way and seems utterly reasonable as explained by Powers. That's one of his strongest talents. Whereas Blaylock, Leiber and Bradbury present their stories like dreams, Powers gives us the seemingly plausible mechanics behind all the missing and oddball bits of history and makes them real. Like in most of his books, he takes real, though unexplainable or unclear, true historic events and personages and builds a dizzying story around them.
It is a little confusing this time around. I remember the first time I heard about Powers was a review of "The Anubis Gates" in "Whispers" back in 1984. The critic liked the book but felt it was too complicated at times and often not easy to follow. He was content to go along for the ride but he did caution to reader.
So I didn't seek the book out. Then a friend lent it to me and I was hooked. What satisfied me particularly was that it was really complicated. It's a great book that's held up to several re-readings but never that complicated.
With "Three Days to Never" Powers finally got me. There are several moments that left me shaking my head and turning back the pages for re-reads. It's the time travel, the crazy shifts of perspective and alien things that haven't been explained yet. But it's also, I hate to say, Powers' writing. It's not as sharp as it needs to be and that's disappointing.
In the end, though, seek out the book. Aside from Powers' usual display of ingenuity and plotting razzle dazzle there is a sometimes touching examination of father-daughter love of several different varieties. Often Powers' characters have to bear the salvation of humanity on their shoulders. This time the scope's much more manageable and intimate.

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